HLC Self Study
Chapter 5 Graphic

Environmental Scanning

Estrella Mountain Community College’s planning processes include an annual updated environmental scan that produces information on potential impacts on the College. Estrella Mountain has prepared annual environmental scans from 2001 through 2011. As the following outlines, recent educational, partnership, political and social, and technological trends have had an influential impression on college programs and services.

Educational Trends

National education trends indicate that only 70 percent of students graduate from public high schools, with two-thirds of these graduates underprepared for college. Data shows that half of Maricopa County’s high school graduates entering Arizona universities or colleges place into a developmental math course, and a quarter place into a developmental English course. This trend is also reflected nationally. Of the more than 18 million U.S. college students, 3.9 million were enrolled in at least one remedial college course in fall 2007, an increase of 13 percent from 2006. In fall 2010, 71 percent of new, full-time, degree-seeking Estrella Mountain students tested into at least one or more developmental course.

Nationally, it is estimated that 85 percent of students taking courses online live in the same region as the college that offers the courses. The College has responded to this trend by offering an array of hybrid and online course offerings. Over the last three fall terms (2008, 2009 and 2010); Estrella Mountain has more than doubled its online unduplicated headcount from 587 students in fall 2008 to 1,355 students in fall 2010. This represents a 131 percent increase as compared to a 25 percent total enrollment increase over the same time period. Online Full-Time Student Equivalent increased most substantially with an increase of 153 percent.

Partnership Trends

In terms of partnership trends, internal collaboration within the Maricopa County Community College District has increased substantially as a result of the 21st Century Initiative. The initiative was created as a response to a fall 2009 operational efficiency and student success effectiveness study. During 2010, a massive district-wide implementation effort presented several recommendations that targeted the implementation of system-wide changes designed to improve student success. Many of these new initiatives may substantially change the Maricopa County Community College District operations for decades to come.

Another trend impacting the Maricopa system is the State Fiscal Stabilization Fund. Through the program, the United States Department of Education appropriated over $800 million to reduce the impact of Arizona state cuts to P-20 education due to poor economic conditions. To receive funding support, the State of Arizona was required to provide assurances that it will do the following:

• Implement processes to achieve equity in teacher distributions
• Improve collection and use of data (P-20 student tracking system)
• Support struggling schools (restructuring of poor performing schools)

Increased collaboration among Arizona elementary, secondary and post-secondary schools is required to achieve these outcomes. As described in Chapter 5: Criterion 3, the West Valley Math Summit, hosted by Estrella Mountain Community College, occurred in part to support the new state requirements.

Political and Legislative Trends

In response to political and legislative trends to slash higher education budgets at the state level, Arizona’s public, four-year universities have dramatically increased tuition and fees. State universities were typically $1,000 below national rates, but are now moving closer to the national average. The Maricopa County Community College District is committed to maintaining student support services and quality higher education, despite state budget shortfalls. After two years of not raising tuition, in spring 2011, the Maricopa County Community College District voted to increase tuition. The Governing Board approved a $5-per-credit-hour tuition increase, effective July 1, that will raise in-county tuition rates from $71 to $76 per credit hour. Even though the District is challenged with steep budgetary cuts from the state, many college officials remain concerned that tuition hikes will undermine the District’s educational and economic mission. Compounding complex budgetary issues, the emergence of several new trends are adding additional strain to daily operations of the College.

Arizona leads the nation in student borrower default rates at 9.8 percent, followed closely by Texas and West Virginia, each with a borrower default rate of 9.3 percent. Colleges with excessive default rates may lose eligibility for one or more federal student aid programs. At this time, Estrella Mountain maintains a default rate well below the federal requirement and no specific default reduction measures have been implemented. One nationally recognized and local challenge surrounds Arizona’s aggressive efforts to lead the nation in immigration reform legislation (e.g., SB 1070, HB 2008). The implementation of recent immigration reform legislation has resulted in placing increased pressure on higher education professionals to report undocumented immigrants to authorities. Additional strains also include new and continually emerging U.S. Department of Education compliance regulations. As federal and state compliance requirements continue to expand, Estrella Mountain must devote additional dedicated personnel time and energy addressing issues of institutional compliance.

Social and Technological Trends

The economic downturn, fueled by housing foreclosures and higher unemployment rates, has impacted the demographic composition, resulting in more multi-generational households in the United States. In 2008, a record 49 million Americans (16.1 percent of the U.S. population) lived in multi-generational households. This is up from 28 million (12.1 percent of the U.S. population) in 1980. Community colleges are witnessing the largest enrollment gains among students 40-60 years old, many who enroll in occupational programs like dental hygiene, computer-aided design, construction management, and physician assisting.  The ability of these students, who obtain an occupational degree and/or certificate, to earn a “living wage” is also taking a front seat in debates regarding occupational preparedness and student loan debt.  In direct response, Estrella Mountain has implemented measures to continually assess all workforce development programs to ensure such a balance is achieved.

A new 2009 Post 9/11 GI Bill has higher education institutions experiencing even greater military student enrollments. The new bill includes active duty and veterans, while extending benefits to National Guard members, reservists, spouses, and dependents.  Estrella Mountain has responded by expanding and improving services for returning Veterans. A full-time administrative staff member now focuses exclusively on this student population.

Social and technological trends continue to shape the way the Institution utilizes technology.  Current descriptive traits of future students indicate that 87 percent of children ages 12-17 use the Internet, while two-thirds of nursery school children use computers. As Estrella Mountain prepares to serve a new generation of learners, it is vital that the College continues to stay current with the latest technology and its potential influence on enhancing learning. For example, college admissions offices across the country are utilizing social media for student recruitment. In 2008, 41 percent of admission offices kept blogs and 61 percent maintained social-networking profiles. Estrella Mountain continues to seek new technological advances in the area of social media for college learning. In fall 2010, the College launched a Facebook page for the Career and Transfer Center and the Sustainability Committee.